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Who Pays in a Wrongful Death Suit?

Flashing blue and red lights on the roadside is a common sight in West Virginia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mountain State ranks first in the country in the number of fatalities caused by accidents, including vehicular crashes, and is the third-leading cause of death in the state, behind only heart disease and cancer.

Some of these accidents are only that, while others are caused by the negligence of someone else. When someone dies because of another’s misconduct, a wrongful death claim might be made.

Wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against an individual, a corporation, or the government in West Virginia. No matter who is at fault for the death, Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner can help surviving family members understand their rights and the steps necessary to hold the offender accountable.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when someone dies because of another person or entity's negligence or misconduct. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that can be brought to court even if the defendant is already subject to criminal prosecution. Holding the culprit accountable and recovering compensation for the loss are two important reasons to consider bringing a lawsuit with the help of one of our experienced attorneys.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Since the one who was immediately injured by the act has died, a wrongful death case will be officially brought by the deceased’s estate. If they had a will, the person named as the executor can be the person of record bringing the suit. If there is no will, a spouse or other immediate family member must petition to become the administrator of the estate before bringing the lawsuit in West Virginia.

A wrongful death action must be brought within two years of the accident.

What Are Common Causes of Wrongful Death?

An automobile accident is one type that might result in wrongful death, and others include:

Who Can Receive a Wrongful Death Settlement?

Not everyone affected by the death can receive compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. Eligible parties include the surviving spouse, children (including stepchildren), siblings, parents, and anyone else financially dependent on the victim at the time of their death.

Types of Damages Awarded

Like other types of personal injury cases, wrongful death awards can include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic damages include:

  • Lost Future Wages
  • Funeral Expenses
  • Burial Costs
  • Medical Bills
  • Cost of Services the Victim Would Have Provided

West Virginia does not place caps on economic damage awards.

Non-economic damages include:

  • Mental Anguish
  • Loss of Companionship
  • Loss of Protection, Guidance, and Advice
  • Loss of Consortium

Damage caps are placed on non-economic damages, but the caps are higher in wrongful death. The cap is $500,000 ($250,000 in most other personal injury cases).

Punitive damages can be awarded if one of the two is proven:

  • Defendant caused the death while acting with actual malice
  • Defendant caused the death while acting with a conscious, reckless, and outrageous indifference to the health, safety, and welfare of others

Punitive damages deter others from the same kind of egregious conduct and provide for a fair settlement to those left behind. West Virginia caps punitive damage awards to $500,000 or four times the total of compensatory damages (economic and non-economic), whichever is greater.

Modified Comparative Negligence Law

West Virginia has a modified comparative negligence law. If the deceased is determined to be more than half responsible for the accident, no damages will be awarded. When the fault is 50 percent or less, damages will be reduced according to the percentage of fault of the decedent.

Allocation of Settlements

How any settlement or award is allocated depends on whether the lawsuit was decided by a jury or if the settlement was reached before going to trial. In a jury verdict, the jury decides how the award is distributed to the beneficiaries. When an agreement is reached before trial, a judge decides how the settlement is to be divided. In this case, the court schedules a hearing, and all beneficiaries are notified. The heirs can speak about their rights to the settlement at this hearing. If all involved parties reach an agreement among themselves about the division of the settlement, a judge still must approve the allocation.

Experienced Legal Representation

Wrongful death cases can be challenging, and you will benefit from having knowledgeable legal counsel at your side. If we take your case, we will represent you with both compassion and drive, always being sensitive to the immense loss you have endured.

At Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner, we will thoroughly investigate the unique circumstances of your case. Call us today at (304) 713-2014 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.